When the Arab spring began a year ago, the Western world was shocked. Liberty seemed to have bypassed the Arabs; they had seemed resigned to tyranny. But once unleashed, the upheaval knew no restraint, and there were both mayhem and promise in the streets of the Arab world. Since then, the rebellions have spawned a steady stream of punditry and conventional wisdom about the Arab spring—some of it vastly mistaken. Let’s explore what really fueled the uprisings.
Myth one: Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech helped inspire the Arab spring.
Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time of these rebellions, the Arab and Muslim romance with President Obama had long vanished. He had gone to Cairo in June 2009 promising a new American approach to the Arab-Muslim world. But embattled liberals in the Arab world (and in Iran) had already begun to see through him. While Obama pledged “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Arabs saw the new American leader’s ease with the status quo.
Obama set out to repair America’s relations with Syria and Iran, and gave George W. Bush’s “diplomacy of freedom” a quick burial. “Ideology . . . is so yesterday,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly proclaimed in April 2009, identifying Bush’s assertive foreign policy as a thing of the past. As upheaval swept through Iran in the first summer of the Obama presidency, the self-styled bearer of a new American diplomacy ducked for cover.